**********SPOILER WARNING! DO NOT READ IF YOU DO NOT WANT SPECIFC DETAILS OF THIS MOVIE REVEALED TO YOU**************
*Dramatically inhales* Yikes. What a mess. “The Rise of Skywalker” has finally arrived and mercifully brought an end to this aimless trilogy that Disney has created. I really must apologize upfront to anyone who has enjoyed this trilogy because I will be harsh here. It is not my intention to ruin something you have found joy in, but I cannot in good conscience ease up on this film simply because it is “Star Wars”. This film is so HEAVILY flawed that even people who enjoyed it that I have spoken too cannot ignore most of them.
I think that J.J. Abrams is overrated as a filmmaker, and his inability as a storyteller is very much on display with this movie. This plot is so erratic it is almost stressful. The first 45 minutes of runtime are so packed with exposition and random jumps from unrelated story threads that you struggle to keep up with what is happening and who it is happening to. I guess the best way I could describe the plot is like everybody has one item on a shopping list and they all know exactly where they need to go to get that item. There is no mystery or reveals in any of these quests, just simple retrieval or one minor obstacle that will delay the characters for a few minutes. I’ll compare this to the first retrieval mission in “A New Hope” when Ben, Luke, Han, and Chewie are on their way to Alderaan only to find that it was obliterated by the Empire. Instead of just jumping from one location to the next, we are introduced to the mystery of the Death Star and a changing of plans to escape and rescue of Leia. The change in the status quo is simply better than being so predictable.
The real goal of this film seems to be giving the finger to Rian Johnson. I will be the first guy to sign up for the ‘I hated “The Last Jedi”’ fan club, but I have never seen a movie so hellbent on spitting in the face of its predecessor since…”The Last Jedi”. Having a trilogy that is more at war with itself than it is within its story is a problem, regardless of which spectrum of the fanbase you find yourself on. J.J. does everything in his power to retcon anything remotely controversial in “The Last Jedi” back to the shadow realm. Rey? She’s not a nobody; she’s a Palpatine (we’ll get back to this). Kylo’s helmet? Quite literally reassembled piece-by-piece in the opening scenes. Lightsabers? We don’t throw those carelessly; they should be treated with dignity. Using ships at lightspeed to kamikaze bigger ships? 1 in a million shot that could never happen again. Hux as comic relief? Murder him in cold blood because we all hate him now. Rose is someone we should care about? Nope. Have her do nothing and try to hide her on all the promotional material. Leia flying through space with no explanation? Oh, I guess she was always a fully trained Jedi all along. The film undoes so much of the previous one that you might not even need to watch it anymore.
The result of this is that this movie tries to be both the second and third films in the trilogy. In more than one way, “The Rise of Skywalker” feels more like a direct sequel to “The Force Awakens” than it does to “The Last Jedi”. In an effort to undo and cram so much story into this movie, the pacing of the film is ludicrous. Almost nothing is effectively set up and there is no emotional investment into anything we see on screen. Similarly, the introduction of a new Force power that heals fatal wounds takes away any believability of danger to the main cast. I don’t find the ability in itself to be a problem, but the way it is used within the film and the total lack of any recoil from its use nullifies any consequences of the conflicts. There are even two specific moments when we are supposed to believe characters we are told to root for die horribly, only for those characters to be alive a scene or two later with basically no attempt to explain how they survived.
I also need to talk about the return of the original saga’s villain, Emperor Palpatine. *Rubs forehead, squints eyes, and sighs in defeat* I hated every second of him in this film, and that pains me to say because he is one of my favorite characters from the original saga. He does not belong at all. The previous two films in the trilogy have provided NOTHING to suggest that Palpatine was the real villain all along. His presence was nothing more than the aftermath of what his empire had done, but his character was assuredly deceased and gone. When “The Last Jedi” killed off Snoke, Disney and J.J. Abrams panicked and forced him into this movie. His revival isn’t even given the most minimal of explanations, which is ridiculous considering just how gratuitous the rest of the script is with dishing out exposition. I have never been surer that Disney did not have this trilogy planned out beforehand than I am now that I have seen how they attempted to end it.
The Emperor is back and we just need to deal with it. His plan? Have Rey kill him and then give her his invincible army that he was hiding from the rest of the Galaxy(?). Just how big is this army? Big enough that it completely nullifies the existence of The First Order (while still somehow being easy enough to defeat in their first battle). But don’t worry, Snoke was really Palpatine’s puppet the whole time so The First Order was controlled by Palpatine. Oh, and every Star Destroyer can blow up a planet too. So, what was the purpose of The First Order if this new army of infinite Death Stars was the real plan all along? Unclear. If even the slightest bit of critical thinking is applied to any of the events that transpire in this film, and consequentially the films that precede it, everything falls apart.
And now that we know Rey is a Palpatine, I should say that this was the right decision all along. BUT, like everything in this movie, it was executed so poorly. They try to set up this dyad in the Force where Kylo, the grandson of Anakin, and Rey, the granddaughter of Palpatine, are two halves of one Force entity, and I like this premise. There is a lot of potential in this idea that could have been a real strength to tout about this film, but it is way too rushed. Rey’s lineage should have been revealed correctly in the second film of the trilogy so its impact could develop. Rey had spent the entire trilogy being a pure, unadulterated altruist, who was so steadfast in her protagonist ways she outright rejected every single plea to a contrary way of thinking. Then she is told that her bloodline is that of Palpatine and she suddenly flips to being this character that has always been struggling with her dark side. If this information was given in the previous film, she could be haunted by the possibility of what she was for a while. The fear could be what drives her to consider the dark side and when she releases her force lightning for the first time, it would be a much more believable moment of her potential decent.
I do not have issues with her prowess in the Force or any of her new abilities. To the film’s credit, the passage of time leading up to the start of the movie and the implied year or so of intense training that she had done with Leia is enough for me. Is it flawless? I think you know my answer, but considering an explanation is given at all, I cannot complain. I have far more of a problem with Palpatine’s new abilities, which besides ultimately resembling one of those generic early-Marvel CGI sky-beams, is such a jump from the point we had seen him last. Perhaps he was always holding back before but then you just have to wonder how he was ever defeated at all.
My final major gripe with this film is that the dialogue is atrocious. Like George Lucas infamously before him, J.J. displays an almost remarkable inability to write realistic and compelling dialogue. Every line is just so on-the-nose it becomes cringe-worthy. Palpatine and Rey suffer from this the most, especially when they share their soon-to-be-infamous “I am all the Sith-I am all the Jedi” scene at the conclusion of the film. But sophomorically written dialogue by Maz, Hux, and Lando amongst others is just littered throughout the film. If you are not one of this film’s five main characters, your character’s only job is to spew exposition in the most direct way possible.
And so, we have finally hobbled all the way to the finish line. This has been a sad venture for me, as both a fan of “Star Wars” but also as a fan of movies in general. I do not know what this trilogy of films was about. From a storytelling perspective, all three films are unnecessary. There was a lot of potential in the seeds of “The Force Awakens” but it devolved into a conflicting jumble of competing half-baked ideas that culminated in digging up an enemy that was already cleanly defeated before these films came to be. I hope this serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when filmmakers take shortcuts with the material they borrow, attempting to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and thinking it is impossible to write bad “Star Wars” stories. Disney had taken the property for granted, and it is not that they decided to go the fan service route or the Rian Johnson “Burn everything down and replace it with itself but newer” method. It is that they never knew what they wanted to do other than make
money movies. I hope there is a renewed focus on quality storytelling and Disney develops more thought-out plans in the future. It may never be perfect or appeal to everyone, but it is inexcusable to have a trilogy as aimless as this one.
I know it does not seem like it, but I surprisingly left the theater mildly happy with this film. Maybe it is because I spent the entire runtime whispering to my groaning friend in the seat next to me “It’s not as bad as the last one” or I was just so mesmerized by the special effects. If you are willing to not think about ANYTHING you are watching and just watch shiny things explode and people doing backflips and shooting each other with lasers and such, you can be entertained. J.J. throws an absurd amount of content into this movie and it is bound to appeal to people who think bigger is always better. Unfortunately, the more time this movie sits with you, the worse it gets. The flaws cannot hide forever no matter how deep you bury your head in the sand. Some moments are enjoyable just like some are in all the “Star Wars” films, but not nearly enough to keep it afloat. I hope you find moments buried under the rubble that appeal to you because I am sure that some exist and I love when people enjoy “Star Wars”. And while I could probably go on beating the dead horse, I hope there are people out there who will scavenge the wreckage of this film for positives to enjoy.
I give “The Rise of Skywalker” an admittedly artificially passable score of 6.0 out of 10. It really doesn’t deserve this but it will ultimately just be remembered as bad “Star Wars” which is still acceptable by most people’s standards.
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Ian McDiarmid, Mark Hamill, Lupita Nyong’o, Richard E. Grant, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Runtime: 2 Hours and 21 Minutes